Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blew off the art

Finished the edit. I'll send it to the author, tomorrow. And it's got me to wondering if my style of writing is archaic. Well, not writing so much as grammar. I've noticed younger modern writers tend to use fewer commas and are more casual with how their sentences are strung together. I wonder if my reading preferences have held back my adjustments as regards changes in the English language?

For example, I use commas more frequently, separating thoughts in sentences to indicate how I want them considered. How they are fitting together in the character's mind. I don't use them as frequently as I used to, but reading some of the articles written by bloggers and journalists indicates I still use them way too much. But I'm not comfortable if they aren't there. Compare these two versions of the same sentence.

"Surely you're joking."
"I'm not joking, and don't call me Shirley."
"I'm not joking and don't call me Shirley."

I'd do it the first way while most of today's young writers would do it the second. Neither way really affects the meaning of the joke, but to me...having the comma indicates in the reader's mind that there's a hint of a pause there, which to me helps sell the joke. But it also comes across as a bit condescending, like I'm saying, "You're too dumb to get the punch line unless I throw a spotlight on it."

Thing is, I'm not comfortable with the second version; it runs together to me. But many people would think it's perfectly fine and get the joke and laugh. So which is better?

To be honest, I don't care. I have my style of writing and it keeps evolving in its own little way, so I see no need to either slavishly follow the rules of pure grammar as laid out by "Strunk & White" or give it all up for the sake of being kewl. And as the wise men said, "That is that."

Of course, one of the curses of being a writer is, you always want to redo someone else's work as you read it. I have a hard time reading modern fiction because of it, unless I already like the writer's style -- like Jay McInerney's and Larry McMurtry's. Their novels and short stories work for me because their styles and mine mesh (in my mind). But I kept wondering why Caleb Carr wrote "The Alienist" in such a cold manner and why Isaac Asimov let Harry Selden come across as such a blithering idiot in "Prelude to Foundation"? (And I LOVE the "Foundation Trilogy".) When you're trying to rewrite Asimov in your head, you know you've got a real writer's ego going.

Wow...I've got a writer's ego. Cool. I should read other great works and rewrite them in my far more brilliant style. Now where's my copy of James Joyce's "Ulysses"?

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